Review: Come From Away (Mirvish)

Photo of the cast of COME FROM AWAY - Canadian Company, Photo by Matthew MurphyMirvish transfers smash hit musical Come From Away to a new venue: Toronto’s Elgin Theatre

What I like most about Come From Away is that if you want layers, you can find them; if you just want a joyful feel-good show, you can find that too.

As my show-partner Ryan said, it is “infectious and warm, and as a Canadian, you can’t help but feel proud.” I felt it too as I watched the story of how the townspeople of Gander, Newfoundland stepped up to take care of the unexpected visitors, as though I had some ownership of their story by simply living in the same country as them.

The piece is based on the true story of when 38 planes were re-routed to Gander during the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. The almost 7,000 people that arrived on those planes practically doubled the population of the town. Come From Away explores a bit of what that meant for the town, and a lot of what that meant for the “plane people”.

You can expect to laugh, and probably to cry, or, if you’re not a crier, at least be touched. The acting will impress you. As will the singing. Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s music will leave you tapping your toes and smiling away.

If you are the type to notice the design, then you’ll probably enjoy Howell Binkley’s excellent and evocative lighting, and the way Beowulf Boritt’s sets were used and repeatedly repurposed to convey time, place and mood so effectively. Even if you don’t specifically notice it, you’ll appreciate the tight direction Christopher Ashley provided here.

Those are all assumptions of course, but they seem pretty safe ones. My show partner and I both agreed that we thought all these things were top-notch. They combine to make for an excellent show. And all the audience members we overheard or talked to after seemed to love it. Plus, you’ve probably already heard a fair bit of glowing press.

But here’s the thing: you will see the show in a different way than I did, just as I saw it in a different way than Ryan did. Everyone will see this show in a different way than everyone else.

And this is what fascinates me so much about this piece. It is, of course, true of any piece of theatre that our lived experiences colour what we see. That, in some way, every audience member gets a slightly different show. But it feels so much more acute with this one.

From practically the very beginning of the piece, I found myself overcome with emotion. I was fighting back tears. I was feeling it in my whole body. It was intense. And I couldn’t quite explain it at first, because it didn’t match what was happening on stage.

Then I realized that everything from 9/11, was coming back to me. I was in that moment again. I was experiencing it all over, even though it wasn’t really being explored in the show. The anguish and uncertainty of all of it, everything from that day and the days following seemed to be flooding my body.

After the show I talked to someone I knew who was there. She had experienced the same thing. She said she was crying from basically the beginning of the show. For the two of us, everything was so loaded with memories. But we were both adults in 2001, what would it be like for someone who is now, say, 28? Ten is old enough to know the terror attack is happening, but I would wager it is a different experience than as an adult. I suspect the mark it leaves is different. So how would they experience the show?

This made me think about other people, and what their experience might be. The terror attacks had so many different stakes for so many people. I started thinking about the few conversations I have had with Brown friends about how the way they were treated changed overnight after the attack. I wondered how some of them might feel watching the show. The list of examples of different experiences can go on and on.

The point is, the attacks were such a world shifting event that have impacted so many, in so many ways. Even though the show very cleverly almost doesn’t talk about the attacks at all, they are inescapable throughout. This makes this piece, even more than others, entirely influenced by our lived experience.

That’s not the only thing that makes this a unique experience though. Ryan and I talked about how impressively the actors inhabited their characters. For several of them, we didn’t notice until well into the show the multiple characters played by the same actors. That’s a rare feat.

When we were talking about it after the show, Ryan pointed out something that really struck me. He said something along the lines of “how often is an actor accountable to the person they are playing on stage.”

It’s an excellent point. The performance we saw was the official opening performance in a new venue, and at the curtain call some of the people the characters were based on came out on stage. Actors were hugging and laughing with the people they were portraying on stage. There was a clear relationship between them. That’s got to translate into some serious investment in the character.

As for the script itself, also by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, I appreciated that it wasn’t all happiness and light. The truth is, they could have gotten away with candy coating the whole thing and just telling us an over-the-top happy story. People would have eaten it up. But they didn’t take that route.

There were still reminders in there about why planes were redirected to remote locations, about immediate suspicions that developed of people just because of the colour of their skin and their religion, about how even though a crisis can bring people together, it can drive them apart too. And the show is that much stronger for it.

Ryan and I both had our quibbles with some parts of the script. We both wanted to see a bit more of how this impacted the townspeople, even if it was just glimpses. Ryan pointed out that the storyline about the SPCA and the animals felt detached from the rest of the piece and I agree. I would have liked to have seen it connected with the people somehow. But ultimately these quibbles were small.

I really liked Come From Away. I liked it in a different way than I expected to. What’s more, I continued liking it even more the more I thought about it after I left the theatre. To me, that’s one of the marks of a good piece of theatre. So I am joining the chorus of voices suggesting you take the time to try and see this one, whether it’s for the layers, or just for the feel-good fun.


Details

  • Come From Away is playing until June 30, 2019 at The Elgin Theatre (189 Yonge Street)
  • Shows run Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8PM with matinees on Wednesdays at 1:30PM and Saturday & Sunday at 2PM.
  • Tickets prices range from $39 to $232. A limited number of rush tickets will be available for each performance available on through the website for $25 each.
  • Tickets are available online, by phone at416.872.1212 or 1.800.461.3333, or in person at the box office (although you are unlikely to get tickets the day of).
  • The show runs 100 minutes with no intermission

Photo of the cast of Come From Away by Matthew Murphy